Monday 28 July 2014

The Scottish Genealogy Network's Visit to the Hawick Heritage Hub

On Saturday 26 July the Hawick Heritage Hub opened up its doors to the Scottish Genealogy Network. Juline Baird, assistant archivist, began by telling us about the Heart of Hawick, the regeneration project for Hawick. The Heart of Hawick includes the Heritage Hub (which we visited), Borders Textile Towerhouse, Tower Mill Café Bar and the open air Civic Space.

The Heritage Hub is the main archive for the Scottish Borders, although it should also be noted that some local museums also hold documents for their area so it’s worth getting to know what each museum has.

Opened in 2007, the Hub is certainly a modern, bright and comfortable place to work. There are large desks ideal for research, a number of computer desks and some more comfortable chairs around the windows which look like an ideal place to sit and read one of the archive’s excellent collection of reference books.

Juline explained to us that whilst there is now an online catalogue it is still being updated so sometimes it may still be necessary to consult the paper catalogue in the archive. If you are researching from a distance you can of course email the archive and ask for assistance.

Juline then showed to us a most fascinating volume from within the archive’s collection, concerning accidents and unexplained deaths in Roxburghshire, created by the Roxburghshire County Police in the late 19th century. This is of those records that allows us to peel back the layers and look into people’s private lives at some of their darkest moments. There is no denying this is a heart touching volume.

Here is an entry which touched me, and without this volume we may never have learnt about:

August 1886
Cart Accident - Not Fatal
Charles Blyth

This boy aged 5 years son of and residing with Alice Blyth a Hawker Kirk Yetholm got his left leg broken in two places above the knee and sustained other bruises by hanging on to the hind board of a cart which was being driven though Kirk Yetholm by James Martin son of James Martin Farmer residing there and throwing up his leg trying to get into the cart, in so doing his leg was caught in the wheel & he was carried twice round before the cart stopped.

Dr Forbes Yetholm attended this boy and set his leg & states that it is impossible at present to estimate the extent of injury sustained but says that he seems to be very badly hurt. Robert Service Pig dealer and William Stenhouse Farmer both residing in Kirk Yetholm saw the accident.

After looking at this very interesting volume we were taken on a tour of the archive, including behind the scenes. We even climbed to the very top of the building to see the inside of the turret!

First we were shown the small room used as a library. This is not self service: staff will bring the books you need directly to you. They have a large collection of printed genealogies and various local reference books which are invaluable when researching. What they also have is a collection of envelopes, organised by parish which hold some basic information for that parish. If you are unfamiliar with an area I would definitely recommend these as a starting point as they give you an overview of that parish.

Upstairs Juline showed us into one of the archive’s main storage rooms: there are 1.5 miles of modern shelving. This is excellent for a local archive, as it means everything they hold is on-site, meaning that if your research takes you in a new direction on the day you can look at whatever you need on site.

Another way this archive excels is that it not only has access to the Scotland’s People Centre for just £15 a day, but also access to much of the ‘Virtual Volumes’ system generally only available at the National Records of Scotland in Edinburgh. When you add to this the fact that this innovative archive has been gradually digitising their own records, you come to the conclusion that by sitting down at a computer in the Hawick Heritage Hub you would certainly be able to do a lot of your family tree!

All in all this is a five star archive, possibly one of the best in Scotland and well worth a visit by any genealogist, professional or amateur!

Visit to St. Andrews

It was a glorious day when a group of enthusiastic genealogists met in St. Andrews on June 27th. First we visited the Parish Church, which has an item of particular interest to a group of genealogists. You may have heard of the Kirk Session records, almost always packed with minutes of the church’s enquiries into cases of fornication and adultery. The Session would question the woman, trying to discover the name of the child’s father. Once guilt was established the offenders would be disciplined by sitting on a stool placed at the front of the church, and rebuked in the presence the congregation. The specific discipline practices varied from place to place but below you can see a photograph of the stool once used in St. Andrews.

After this we went for some lunch and a catch-up followed by a walk around the beautiful streets, stopping at the Cathedral for a group photo.

Members of the SGN in St. Andrews
We then made our way to the University Archive which is in a refurbished church. The University have created this modern facility, suitable for use as a study space and a research centre. It not only performs these functions admirably but also looks beautiful! It was a real privilege to be shown round this amazing space.

We were then taken through to a room with a great array of treasures from the Archive which had been selected by archivist Norman Reid. Norman explained some of the history of the University and outlined what type of records they hold. Because it is such a long-established university people have been depositing records and books with them for centuries, this has enabled them to build up a truly unique collection.

For the family historian some of the key records they hold are local Kirk Session and council records as well as family papers, such as those of the Playfair and Anstruther families. If you are researching a family from the St. Andrews area I would definitely recommend finding out what the University has in its collection.

You can search their catalogue here, but one thing to note is that due to space constraints, items are held off site. This means they at least a day’s notice is required so that items can be brought in for you to view, so good planning is essential. Let the archive know what you would like to see and when, so that it will be available when you arrive.